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The AE Holiday Gift Guide (2016 Edition)



It’s the holiday season, which traditionally means it’s time to start stressing out about what to get that special person in your life who is impossible to shop for. But not this year! Asian Efficiency is here to help with our Holiday Gift Guide. This post was actually inspired by a podcast episode I recently recorded with Thanh where we share our top gift ideas and explain why we picked that particular item in detail. We alternate gift ideas for ten rounds, so there’s twenty gift ideas total and any one of them would be great for the productivity nerd in your life.

Table of Contents

Gift Idea #1

Thanh: Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

I know it’s a little bit on the expensive side, but I can not tell you how awesome this little gift is. The Amazon Echo has literally changed my life and I use it every single day. In fact, I recently wrote an article about some of the many ways I use my Amazon Echo. For example, one of the first things I do as part of my morning ritual is ask Alexa what’s on my calendar so I have a rough idea of what’s going on. Anytime I have a question in my head and I want to know the answer right away, I just ask Alexa and she tells me. It’s really, really useful and one of the bigger revelations I have from having one is that I don’t use my phone nearly as often (which is a good thing).

Let me give you another example: I like to cook hard boiled eggs, and I always set the timer for seven minutes because I like to have them really soft. All I have to do is just tell Alexa to set a seven minute timer and then it will go off when my eggs are done and you can even have multiple timers running as well. This is just so much more efficient than setting timers on my iPhone.


Mike: LifeStraw Go

Lifestraw Go

The LifeStraw Go is a sports water bottle which has a filter built into it that I use all the time, especially when I’m traveling. I’ll go through security at the airport and obviously it’s got to be empty at that point but then I can fill it up literally anywhere and I can have clean drinking water wherever I go. The brand LifeStraw was kind of made famous by the TV series Survivorman. If you’ve never seen the show, they would drop him in the middle of the desert and he would have to survive on his own. He would often have a LifeStraw because it would allow him to drink the muddy water out of any stream or river because it filters out all the bacteria.

I always have this with me so it also is something that I use as a prompt to make sure that I’m drinking enough water throughout the day. I know that I’ve got to refill this thing four or five times in order to get enough water but because I always have it with me, I’m able to do that wherever I am.


Gift Idea #2

Thanh: Bose QuietComfort 20

Bose QuietComfort 20

This again is a little bit on the pricier side but as you guys know, I’m all about minimalist luxury lifestyle. The idea behind the minimalist luxury lifestyle is that you want to own very few things, but the few things you do own are very high quality. The Bose QC20 definitely qualifies. This is not the over-ear headphones that we always talk about (that’s the Bose QC25 or the QC35 which is the wireless version). This is more of an in-ear headphone that is really small, really compact and the reason I recommend it is because it’s now my default earbud whenever I travel. I used to travel with the QC15 which is the older version of the QC25s so I know it sounds a little bit confusing with all these model numbers but trust me, you want to get the QC20s.

The QC20s are super small so if you do any sort of travel and you want to have a really compact backpack with you then bringing those big headphones is not really practical. But if you have the QC20s, you actually get the same noise canceling feature and very similar audio quality, which is really surprising in such a small size.


Mike: Esington Glass Productivity Timer

Esington Glass Productivity Timer

We talk a lot at Asian Efficiency about the Pomodoro Method, and this is essentially a really fancy Pomodoro timer. It’s actually an hourglass but instead of having sand in it, it has what they call nanospheres which are a little bit noisy once you tip it over to start tracking your time. They make a soothing white noise but it’s still a twenty five minute timer that you can turn over to start a pomodoro and that’s usually my cue to get started on a task.

I don’t really have a lot of trouble keeping going once I start a task but I use this timer to help get me going as it helps me overcome procrastination. There have been a lot of blog posts written (even on our site) about how to implement the Pomodoro method but if you’re looking for a really classy looking timer then definitely check out the Esington timer.


Gift Idea #3

Thanh: Humangear GoTubb 3-pack

Humangear GoTubb 3-Pack

These are little containers that you use for travel. Anybody who does any sort of frequent traveling (especially within the US domestic flights and Europe) knows you have all these limitations when it comes to how many liquids you can bring, what kind of volume and that sort of thing. One of the problems I used to have was I could never bring my shampoo, I could never bring my moisturizer and things like that because they used to be in all these big bottles and you can only bring those if you check in your bag. However, I don’t check my bag anymore because I only bring my carry on with me. And if you want to bring a carry on, you have to adhere to certain sizes.

In the US, it’s like three ounces or less and so you can buy these little tubs and these little packs where you can then put in your shampoo, your shaving cream, your moisturizer, your lotion into all these little things that you can then put in your toiletry bag. That’s what I would recommend and then also, with these small packs, you can then bring your supplements as well. If you have a multivitamin or fish oils or krill oil or something like magnesium supplements or anything that helps you fall asleep or whatever medicine or supplements you need to take, you can put all of that in there as well and it’s a really small container that you can carry with you. I highly recommend it.


Mike: Fidget Cube

Fidget Cube

This is a unique Kickstarter project which you can now order directly from the website. I find this really interesting because because I find that I fidget all the time. I used to try and curb it but then I realized that fidgeting actually helped me focus more. If you see me in a meeting and you see me clicking my pen or twirling it in my fingers or something like that, it doesn’t mean that I’m bored or not paying attention. It means that I’m actually very engaged and so the idea with this Fidget Cube is that it’s this little thing that you can keep in your pocket and it’s got a whole bunch of switches and dials and things that you can play with discreetly to help you focus. Basically it has a lot of different input methods so you can choose whatever you respond to best, but no one will see you playing with it.

This was one of the most funded projects ever on Kickstarter. They had a fifteen thousand dollar goal and they raised almost $6.5 million dollars. They had a 154,926 backers so it is incredibly popular. I always thought that I was odd because I would always tend to fidget. I didn’t see anybody else struggling with this sort of thing but apparently, there are at least 154,925 other people in the world who deal with the same sort of thing.


Gift Idea #4

Thanh: Bartender (Mac app)


This is a Mac app called Bartender (sorry Windows and Android users but as you know, we are big Mac users around here). It’s a really cheap app. It’s only five dollars and it solves a big problem on your Mac by aggregating all your menu bar items into one specific location.

You know how on the Mac at the top right corner you’ll see the time, you’ll see a spotlight logo and you see all these other icons there filling up your whole screen? Well, Bartender has it’s own icon there but then if you click on it, you can move icons under Bartender so it keeps all of them where they’re not always visible. It creates more free space on your menu bar so your Mac looks a lot cleaner. Your menu won’t look as cluttered because all these menu icons that you don’t really use that often can be hidden through Bartender.

For example, if I click on Bartender right now, I see that I have the Evernote clipper there. I see that I have Backblaze there which I don’t really use that much actively because it runs in the background and it’s my way of backing up stuff. I have Hazel there, I have Keyboard Maestro there. I have TextExpander there, I have Flux there, I have PopClip there. I have all these little icons that I don’t use on a daily basis but every now and then, maybe once every couple of weeks, I actually have to access them through the menu bar and this is a really great way to save up space.


Mike: Logitech MX Master Mouse

Logitech MX Master Mouse

This is a fancy mouse that has a bunch of extra buttons on it and if you use this along with BetterTouchTool, you can really program a lot of custom gestures and things on your mouse instead of having to use your track pad on your laptop. There’s actually like seven or eight different buttons on this. It takes a little bit of time to really tweak it to where it can really start saving you a lot of time but it definitely has that potential if you invest even a little bit of time and you figure out which buttons are actually comfortable and easy for you to use. If you’ve developed a systems mindset and you’re looking for ways to automate certain things on your computer, especially on the Apple platforms where you can use tools like Keyboard Maestro and stuff like that, you can really automate a lot of the common actions that you repeatedly do and eliminate a lot of keystrokes to save yourself a lot of time just by using a mouse.

In addition to being really functional, I find it much more comfortable than the standard Apple magic mouse which is what I had used previously as my external mouse at my desktop setup. This is a great mouse, and I definitely recommend it.


Gift Idea #5

Thanh: Flight 001 Spacepak

Flight 001 Spacepak

This is another travel related one. I’ve done so much traveling this year that I kind of have my process nailed down, and in my opinion one thing any #AsianEfficient person should have when it comes to travel is the Flight 001 Spacepak. Think of this as the Ferrari when it comes to packing cubes. You’ve probably seen packing cubes before. They  allow you to easily pack stuff and make sure that your suitcase doesn’t get turned into a big mess. It’s all nicely organized and compartmentalized and you suck out all the air so you save up a lot of space.

If you haven’t used any sort of packing cube already, then start using a packing cube because it will make traveling so much more efficient but if you have to pick one, I would say go for the Flight 001 Space Pack. It’s a really nice design and has different colors for different types of packing cubes so it’s really easy to tell which packing cube you have.

These packing cubes in particular solve a major problem I had when packing, why is: what do you do with your dirty socks and underwear? Where do you keep them?

In the past, I would have a plastic bag that I would bring with me but with the packing cube from Flight 001, they actually are reversible so you can put the dirty clothes on the other side of your packing cube so it’s all in the same packing cube still. It doesn’t take up additional space elsewhere and it’s all in one place. I highly recommend it. It’s I believe a hundred dollars or so. It’s a little bit more pricey than most packing cubes but if you appreciate design, and if you appreciate utility value, this is the one I would recommend.


Mike: Rhodia Dot-Grid Notebook

Rhodia Dot Grid Notebook

This is a Moleskin notebook which has a couple additional niceties. I had been using the Evernote Moleskin before I bought this one and that was a great notebook as well but I noticed that the pens I used were bleeding a lot whenever I would bump it with my hand (which happens all the time since I take sketch notes). The pages were just really slow to dry. So I did some research and I was looking for a notebook that would complement the Pilot G-2 gel pens that I use for sketch noting.

Somebody recommended the Rhodia web notebook and I got it and I really, really like it. The cover is very unique. I’m not even sure how to describe it. It’s not hard necessarily. It feels almost like a plush leather sort of cover and the pages themselves, they say on the Amazon description that they are ivory Clairefontaine paper. I don’t know exactly what that means but I can tell you that it feels really, really nice to write on.


Gift Idea #6

Thanh: Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

You probably know what a Kindle is, if not, it’s the electronic reader that Amazon creates and ever since I’ve switched to the Kindle, many, many moons ago, it’s helped me read more consistently. I find myself reading a lot more simply because I can download books and because I can carry books with me whenever I travel. It’s really great when you read a lot outside your home. When you’re using the iPad outside, you kind of have this glare and it makes it very difficult to read but with the Kindle, it’s really easy to read and it doesn’t strain your eyes as much.

I know there’s a lot of other different e-readers out there but the Kindle is hands down the best one and because it’s integrated with Amazon, you have access to millions of books right away. To me, it’s the highest standard when it comes to e-readers so definitely get your significant other or productivity friend a Kindle if they love reading.


Mike: Logitech Create Keyboard Case for iPad Pro 9.7-inch

Logitech Create Keyboard Case

Very specific, I know. I got an iPad Pro this summer and I had an Apple Smart Keyboard Cover for it that I really liked using because I prefer the constraints of the iPad where you just have one app open in front of you. I know you can do full screen on your Mac as well but there’s just something about iOS where it just feels more like you’re focused on the one thing as opposed to having a bunch of different things open at the same time, and I find that great when I’m trying to get writing done.

Over time I discovered that when it comes time to actually do writing that the iPad is a great tool for that but I was not happy with the Apple keyboard cover because the keys just didn’t feel very good to me. The Logitech Create Keyboard case has been out for a while for the big iPad Pro and then this summer, they released it for the smaller iPad Pro and it has a space for your Apple pencil as well. So now, you can carry everything with you.

It’s almost like a small notebook and so I’ll grab this, I’ll go down to the coffee shop and I’ll get some writing done but it allows you to have everything in one place and it’s a smart keyboard, it uses a smart connector on the iPad so it actually doesn’t require Bluetooth. It’s very fast, it’s very solid and the keys feel great. The keys are actual key switches so if you don’t like the feel of the new MacBook keyboards you’ll probably like this a lot better.


Gift Idea #7

Thanh: Tile (4-pack)


If  you know somebody who loses their keys all the time, can’t find their wallet, can’t find their backpack or they’re just schizophrenic when it comes to losing stuff, you want to get them the Tile. The Tile is this really tiny, square looking gadget that you can put on anything and then anytime you get away from it, it starts to beep.

You can hear the sound knowing that, “It’s getting away from me.” It’s great because if you lose your keys, if you run away to far from your bike or whatever, it starts to make a sound but what’s also great about it is that you can track online where your stuff is. Let’s say you have a Tile put on your laptop and you happen to lose your laptop, you can actually track online where your laptop is because it’s attached right to your laptop. You can find stuff that way and hopefully you can recover things as you need too.

It’s really affordable and I’ve seen lots of people use this. I don’t personally have one but I know friends who have it and love it and we’ve given this away on the Asian Efficiency blog before and people that we’ve given it to have loved it as well. It was actually one of the most popular giveaways we’ve ever done.


Mike: NeuYear Calendar

NeuYear Calendar

This is a wall calendar which gives you a big picture view of your entire year. There’s a lot of different versions of this, and we even have our own Asian Efficiency version for next year. You can kind of see everything that’s happening at once. The thing I like about this calendar is that there’s no clear distinctions between the different months as they kind of run together to give you more context in your calendar. For example, if you have a week where January ends and February begins, it will show on the same line. It’ll be clear that this is where February starts but it just in my opinion, it helps articulate how your year is going to link together. I think a lot of times we can focus in own the month we’re in and then once its done, we jump to the next month.

My wife and I have used one of these for the last couple years and we just put everything that’s going to happen and the big milestone-type things on this calendar and then it helps us see what’s on the horizon. It gives us a real clear picture of things that we have to do down the road where typically in the past, we would not even think about those things until all of the sudden those things were upon us and then we’re stressed out about them because we’re not ready for them. This is a great planning tool that kind of consistently and regularly keeps the things that you’ve committed to big picture in front of mind.


Gift Idea #8

Thanh: FitBit Charge 2

FitBit Charge 2

This is one of those popular fitness trackers that is out there and again, one of the most popular giveaways we’ve ever done on the site. People just seem to really love them. Everywhere you look, you see people wearing them. I was just on a flight yesterday and I can’t tell you how many people I saw who had this particular Fitbit but it seemed to be many more than people who had the Apple watch. If you want to give this gift to somebody who wants to be more health conscious and start tracking their heart rate, their sleep, their fitness activity, the Fitbit Charge is arguably the most affordable but also the most useful to give so definitely check it out.


Mike: Sonos PLAY:1

Sonos PLAY:1

The PLAY:1 actually has really impressive sound quality and it’s kind of the place to start if you’re interested in checking out the Sonos system. If you’re not familiar with the Sonos brand they make wireless speakers that create their own wifi network and use their own dedicated app so you can stream music or really any sort of audio source to any room in your house. For example, we’ve got one in our living room, we’ve got one in our kid’s bedroom that they listen to music when they fall asleep at night, we’ve got one in the basement and you can have one service sending different music to different speakers so different people can be using the same service. That’s one of the limitations with services like Spotify for example, if you have one account and somebody else logs in with your account, it’s going to kick out the original account. Not so with the Sonos.

They updated the mobile app not too long ago and it’s really sharp. You can actually search your music in the Sonos app and you can search not only the Spotify collection but if you have different music sources, like you could have Apple music as well and you could have local music on your device and you could search inside the Sonos app and it will search all of your different music sources. It’s kind of like a universal search between all your different audio inputs. I use that a lot. You can create playlists that are inside of the Sonos app itself and then those can be shared with anybody who accesses the Sonos system. I really like this. I was on the fence about this for a long time and then took the plunge and I’m very happy that I did.


Gift Idea #9

Thanh: Extra charger

Apple MacBook charger

I wouldn’t necessarily give this to somebody who is kind of a friend or kind of a person that you just barely know. This would be more of a suitable gift that is maybe your partner or your spouse but I can tell you, if you do give it to them, they’re going to love it because of the high utility value. Depending on which brand you buy, the price can go from being really cheap to really expensive if you buy the official brand. For Apple chargers, you can buy Apple certified chargers on Amazon for pretty cheap prices. I would go that route but having an extra laptop charger, having an extra cable for charging your iPhone, iPads and all your devices is such a huge time saver. If you come to my place, you can actually see chargers all over the place because it just makes it so much easier to charge your phone. In my small place, I actually have three places where you can charge my phone or a phone: next to my bed, one by my desk and then one in sort of the living room area.

These cables are really long as well. They’re like seven, nine feet because I find that if you have a really long cable, especially next to your bed, it actually makes it so convenient to use your laptop in bed or to use your iPad or your iPhone in bed if you want to or to charge it there or even in the living room. If you have a really long cable, you don’t have to bend over as far. These little friction points get eliminated when you have all these extra cables and if they’re really long as well.

Mike: Phillips HF3520 Wake-Up Light


If you’re not familiar with these, basically what it does is it simulates a sunrise via this alarm clock sort of a thing. It’s circular and it gets really, really bright. When you set an alarm (say for six o’clock), it starts to glow about thirty minutes before then. You can change how much before the alarm it starts ramping up but if you set the alarm for six o’clock for example, at five thirty it will start to glow and it will get increasingly bright until the time that you’ve set that this is the time I want to wake up at. The benefit of that is that it doesn’t jar you out of the deep sleep that you maybe are in when your alarm starts buzzing. Instead, it gradually will get your body in the mode where it’ll get you up out of that deep sleep and you’ll be able to wake up a lot more refreshed. It kind of is playing on the whole idea behind the Sleep Cycle app where you’re timing not only when you wake up with the optimal place to wake up but also this kind of will nudge your body in the right direction.

If you’ve ever woken up before to an alarm clock and you felt really groggy or kind of upset or just mad or you didn’t feel that great, it’s probably because you were woken up in the middle of a sleep cycle when you were like in deep sleep. Having something like this will prevent that from happening and so I definitely recommend it and again, the recurring theme here is that this was one of the most popular giveaways we’ve done as well so you know that we’ve tested everything and the community has vouched for it as well, that this is something that they love.


Gift Idea #10

Thanh: Evernote Moleskine

Evernote Moleskine

Before I bought the current agenda that I have (which is a Louis Vuitton agenda) I actually used an Evernote Moleskin for a couple years to write down my notes. Any time I went to a seminar, a mastermind or just a conference or any sort of event, I always brought this one with me to write down my notes and then scan them into Evernote. If you know somebody who is an Evernote user and they like to use pen and paper, then this is a really great Moleskine to have.

What’s great about it as well is that it comes with stickers. You can kind of program it so that stickers mean different things and get different tags and stuff like that and you can build a simple workflow around the stickers which is kind of cool. If you aren’t an Evernote user yet but you want to get into Evernote and you also want to use pen and paper, this is a really great combination. I definitely would recommend it for anybody who wants to just start automating some of the note taking that they have into a digital system. Even if you don’t use the digital system at all, it’s a pretty nice notebook by itself.


Mike: Jaybird X3

Jaybird X3 Bluetooth Earbuds

I love these Bluetooth wireless earbuds. If the X3’s are not available (they seem to be available then unavailable on Amazon frequently), the X2’s are great as well. I had purchased several different pairs of Bluetooth earbuds over the years for working out and I always went for the cheap ones to see if they would work, and all of them ended up annoying me. I finally embraced the minimalist luxury lifestyle, got rid of all the cheap versions that I had bought over the years and bit the bullet and bought the X2’s. The X3’s are the brand new version and they have a little bit better Bluetooth I believe and they sound a little bit better but otherwise, they’re basically the same thing.

They’re super comfortable, and great for working out. They sound great and they’ve got a built in microphone so if you actually needed to take a call or something, you’re able to do it with these earbuds. There’s a cord that connects them that kind of lays across the back of your neck but there’s no cord that goes to your phone obviously because they’re Bluetooth earbuds. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but if you lift weights at all, it’s a game changer because you don’t have to worry about your cord getting tangled as you’re lifting weights. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been bench pressing and then the cord has gotten tangled and it rips the earbuds out of my ears and it freaks me out. And that’s not the place you want to be freaked out – when you’re trying to lift a bunch of weight over your head.


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